When World Book Night organizers expanded the book-giving event from the U.K. to the U.S. for 2012 they knew that generating buzz—and understanding—about a program with the goal of giving away 500,000 copies of 30 titles on a single day would be a challenge, given the limited budget available. So when the newly appointed WBN US executive director Carl Lennertz was approached by Andrea Chambers, director of NYU’s Center for Publishing, and offered the help of NYU’s masters in publishing students to publicize the event, it was a no-brainer. “I wept in gratitude,” Lennertz quipped.
To get the program rolling, Chambers worked with the Publishing Student Association, which sponsors an annual book drive and mentors new students, to put together a committee that would select the WBN US team members. Spearheaded by Laura Flavin, a student who is the v-p of NYU’s PSA, the committee selected six students (in addition to Flavin) to spread the WBN US message via social media, picking Lavanya Narasimhan, who had the most experience with social media, to head the committee.
After forming last fall, the NYU committee, which also includes Melodie George, Erin Cox, Alicia Olivares, Laura Peraza, and Hannah Werthan, put together an expansive network of news, publicity, and outreach programs that rely heavily on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr; all were in place when Lennertz announced the 30 selected titles for WBN US in December. “Givers were the most important thing,” said Narasimhan, who said the committee’s initial efforts were largely devoted to getting givers—the people who will give out the books—to sign up before the February 1 deadline. Since then, the committee’s focus has shifted to extending the awareness of WBN to nongivers, an effort that will continue until World Book Night on April 23. The eventual goal, Narasimhan said, is that on World Book Night, “if a person sees someone giving another a book, it should register that this is World Book Night.”
The group’s strategy was divided into subgroups along platform lines, with the intent, said Nirasimhan, of “synching everything and having a cohesive message.” Facebook became a forum for givers and potential givers, as the committee used the account to answer questions and as a landing page for other users to answer questions for each other. “There was a lot of disseminating information,” said Narasimhan, as information like deadlines and troubleshooting found a home on Facebook. Posts made to the Facebook account, which has over 7,000 “Likes,” routinely get hundreds of responses, including comments and “Likes.”
Twitter, meanwhile, became an avenue for blogger outreach and extending WBN’s exposure. Cox noted that a few weeks before the February 1 deadline for giver registration, activity on Twitter “exploded,” and the committee watched as WBN activity spread from core industry people to bloggers and finally to the general public. It became so big that the students began seeing mentions of WBN on their personal Twitter accounts, from friends who had nothing to do with the book industry. As of April 13, the WBN US account has over 2,200 followers.
Tumblr, managed by Peraza, focused on the books themselves, harnessing the platform’s visual layout with quotes, pictures, and videos. “Tumblr revitalized Twitter during the low periods,” said Cox, adding, “The integration between the platforms was seamless.”
Speaking about working together, Narasimhan said, “It was very organic. We all had roles and we were always open with communication.” The committee members, who all have jobs or internships, established a schedule back in the initial meetings to figure out who could post and when. Since then, they’ve shared responsibilities, monitoring all the platforms so that “anybody who says something is heard—we acknowledged their voices and participation,” said Narasimhan. The committee’s network became so effective that now anyone with a question gets multiple responses from other users before the committee even sees the question.
Looking ahead to April 23, activities planned include comprehensive photo documentation that will capture the giving, which will be critical for next year’s WBN. For the most part, though, the NYU committee will work behind the scenes.
Lennertz praised the committee’s work, observing that they “started the drumbeat about WBN” with a budget of zero. And the students were thrilled for the opportunity. “It’s every book nerd’s dream,” said Cox, “to work on a project that celebrates books with people you’ve never met across 50 states. That’s been a surreal thing. That opportunity doesn’t happen often.”